Adobe Goes Back to the Drawing Board With Digital-Ink Pen and Slide Ruler
My mom is a bit of an artist but, unfortunately, I didn’t inherit any of her creative skills. That was made abundantly clear this week when I tested Adobe’s new Ink and Slide digital pen and ruler for the iPad.
This is the first hardware product for Adobe, which is best known for its suite of creative software like Photoshop and InDesign. Available today in the U.S., and sold as a set for $200, Ink and Slide are designed to work with two new apps, Adobe Sketch and Adobe Line. Sketch is made for free-form drawing, while Line allows for more precise line-based drafting. Both are free, but to unlock some of the extra features of the app, you’ll need an Adobe Creative Cloud account, which starts at $50 per month for an individual plan.
To be clear, Adobe Ink and Slide are geared more toward the creative professional and serious artist, rather than the casual doodler. Though I had fun playing with it over the past couple of weeks, I don’t draw enough to want to spend that much money on a stylus and ruler, not to mention the Creative Cloud subscription. If you’re more of a recreational artist, there are definitely cheaper styli and art apps, like ArtRage ($4.99).
But I can see Ink and Slide being potentially useful tools for their intended audience. The fine point of the Ink pen offers much more precision than some of the other styli on the market. The guidelines and templates provided by the Slide ruler are incredibly helpful. And the Creative Cloud connection means you can access more colors from Adobe’s Kuler app, copy/paste items from the Clipboard, and share and get feedback from the Behance online portfolio community.
That said, the products also suffer many of the pitfalls of first-generation devices. I experienced some weird behavior when using the Slide. I also thought that the apps weren’t always intuitive, and were somewhat limited in capability. Adobe admits that the world of hardware is new to it, and that this is just the beginning, so you might want to hold out until the next update or model comes out.
The Adobe Ink and Slide currently work with the fourth-generation iPad, iPad Air, iPad mini and iPad mini with Retina display. The accessories almost look like they might have been made by Apple itself, and that’s not by accident.
Knowing that many of its customers use Mac computers, Adobe wanted to create something that would match Apple’s aesthetics, so it partnered with a company called Adonit, which makes other styli for the iPhone and iPad, to work on the design and manufacturing.
Made from aluminum and plastic, Ink has a twisted triangular shape ending in a fine-tip point. There’s a multifunction button near the base of the pen that can be used to power on the device and call up a menu of options in Sketch and Line. At the top is an LED indicator that glows different colors depending on the pen’s status.
I was a bit skeptical about the angular shape, and was afraid that I would constantly hit the button by accident, but that wasn’t the case. The pen was quite comfortable to hold, and felt solid and balanced in my hand.
Meanwhile, the Slide ruler almost looks like a skinnier, longer iPod. It has two “feet” on the bottom, with capacitive touch points built in. So, while you need to connect Ink to your iPad via Bluetooth (a quick and simple process of holding the pen to a specific point in the apps), all you have to do in order to use the Slide is press the ruler to the iPad’s display. A button on top allows you to cycle through the various selection of guidelines you see on the screen.
In the Sketch app, you’ll find a toolbar along the top of the screen that gives you access to your different brushes/pens, colors, Creative Cloud and more. I started off with a simple drawing of Homer Simpson, and then cheated a bit by importing a picture of an orchid I took with the iPad Air’s camera, and tracing the outline with the Ink pen.
The pen is pressure sensitive, so you can press down harder for thicker lines or darker colors. Most of the time, the iPad registered all of the Ink’s strokes, but there were a few occasions that it didn’t. This wasn’t as frustrating as the fact that I couldn’t adjust the width of the brushes or eraser.
There were many times that I wanted to color something in, but the available tips were either too wide and I’d go over the lines, or they were so fine that it would take forever to color everything in.
I had the same problem when trying to erase things, but at least you can undo your last move by swiping two fingers to the left. By holding down three fingers, you can also sweep right or left to move through your entire drawing history for a sketch.
Strangely, there is an option in Line to adjust the width and opacity of your different brushes, but I only found this out through trial and error. Adobe offers a tutorial when you first launch both apps, but it only covers the basics.
In Line, I planned out my dream living room overlooking the ocean, and created a sketch of a skateboarder in the park using some of the built-in stamps. The latter are preloaded outlines of various objects like trees, people and Herman Miller chairs that you can quickly add to your sketches by lining them up with the Slide ruler and then double-tapping the screen.
They added nice touches to my sketches, and using the Slide ruler made it really easy to draw straight lines and circles. But sometimes the guidelines or stamps would disappear off the screen, so I would have to lift and place the ruler down again to resurface them. Also, it’s difficult to add objects near the edge of the screen, and you can’t rotate them, either.
In addition to my testing, I solicited the opinion of a friend, an artist who works for a well-known mobile gaming company. He liked that the Ink pen provided a precision that other styli didn’t, and made it easy to see marks as he made them. However, he agreed that the user interface wasn’t always intuitive. For example, he didn’t realize than an icon that looks like a timer in the color menu would bring up his entire color history. Also, as an artist, he found the tools in Sketch to be very basic.
To be fair, Adobe said it didn’t want to recreate Photoshop or Illustrator with its Sketch and Line apps, and it is exploring adding more features like integration with its desktop apps.
Adobe says the Ink’s battery can handle a full day of drawing, and it comes with a carrying case that doubles as a charger when connected to a power source via microUSB cable. Though this combo accessory is nice, it would be great to have a single carrying case for both the Ink and Slide.
With Ink and Slide, Adobe has built a nice start to offering artists digital tools for creating art on the go. But some improvements to the apps’ UI and additional features could make it better.